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What I learned from Jack Van Loan

Well over a year ago now, Bob Doerr, who had succeeded me as President of The Military Writers Society of America, approached me about publishing this story. The family of Jack Van Loan, who had recently passed away, contacted him about getting the piece ready for publication and finding a publisher for it.

Jack had spent the last years of his life writing about his experience as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. When he died, it was all written down but not ready for prime time. His sons were eager to share their father’s story with the world. And Bob and I …once we saw what Jack had experienced…agreed that it was too important to leave unpublished and unread. As moved as both Bob and I were by Jack’s experiences, when my husband John read it, he was overwhelmed. This was one that we would take on because some power beyond the lot of us sent it to us.

I won’t spoil Jack Van Loan’s larger story for you except to share his observations of a soft-spoken white-haired fellow named James Stockdale. Admiral James Stockdale. The seemingly meek running mate of third party candidate Ross Perot in the 1999 election? I remembered him…vaguely. I certainly didn’t know his story. Jack’s rendition of it forced me to go back and look…really look…at this man who almost seemed like an afterthought in the debates.

However, when I first read Jack’s rendition of Jim Stockdale’s courage under the worst situations imaginable…prolonged torture, I was moved to tears. In fact, I am drawn to that part of the story again and again. Who does that? Who defies the torturer? Who comes out the other side with permanent physical damage…but still courageously goes on with life…forever altered…but still strong? Who does that?

Stockdale’s Medal of Honor recognizes his strength but it doesn’t explain it.

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